Can the Scottish Conservative leader reinvigorate her party's toxic brand?by Josh Lowe / May 6, 2015 / Leave a comment
When I heard that my meeting with Ruth Davidson would be at a children’s indoor play park in the seaside town of Ayr, I wondered if the Scottish Conservative leader had fallen for her own hype. This was, after all, the politician whose general election 2015 journey BuzzFeed recently called “The Most Fun Election Campaign Ever,” due to her compelling photo-ops and penchant for force-feeding political hacks fizzy sweets.
But barrelling through the day-glo labyrinth of Pirate Pete’s Family Entertainment Centre, Davidson is all business, charming owner Johnny Finnie with a mix of matey banter and hard policy knowledge as they chat about his successes and concerns. One minute, she’s shoehorning in an idea to divert more money earned by businesses like Finnie’s to the county towns they’re located in. The next, she’s displaying impressive recall about a nightclub called “Hanger 13” which used to be housed on the play centre’s site. “[It was] notorious back in the early ’90s,” she remembers.
Davidson is on “a one woman mission” to turn around her party’s fortunes north of the border—the Tories have been considered unelectable in much of Scotland at least since Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax experiment, and haven’t wielded major power there since the ‘50s, when they were known as the Unionists. Wearing a baby blue scarf and sturdy black jacket, 36-year-old Davidson is compact and cheery, but nonetheless moves and talks with the unstoppable force of the tank she was recently photographed astride as part of a defence spending stunt. Her campaign has indeed been fun: “some of the things you plan,” she says, “driving tanks around for talking about defence spending, that’s planned. Messing about with a fish, there was a fish there so why not?” The question is whether she can take her personal popularity and turn it into sustained success for her party—along with Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Greens’ Patrick Harvie she is one of only three leaders in Westminster or Holyrood to enjoy a positive approval rating according to Ipsos Mori.